May 22, 2024

Exercise is good for mental health.

In 2011, about 800,000 Canadians have memory impairment. As of this year, over 500,000 are suffering from dementia. If this trend continues, around one million will suffer from it by 2031.

U.S. statistics show over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s dementia in 2014. And one American every 67 seconds develops this illness.

Indeed, the numbers are shocking. But it's more shocking to know that Canada’s universal healthcare can’t sustain its burgeoning costs — about $10.4 billion annually.

For the past few years, the medical community has been focusing on a healthy lifestyles as disease prevention and as part of a treatment approach. Indeed, medications and hospitals are not enough to keep people cognitively healthy.


What are some lifestyle changes that can keep your brain healthier and help prevent the onset of dementia?

Physical Exercise
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, as the saying goes. Based on recent studies, regular physical exercise has resulted in better self-esteem and mental health. Why is this so? Exercise releases endorphin, a brain chemical known to be more potent than some analgesics on the market. One of its benefits is a sense of well-being.

Apart from its endorphin-inducer role, exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, delivering the necessary nutrients and oxygen and efficiently removing toxins. Also, a 25-minute daily exercise can go a long way in reducing stress and in reinvigorating your system. With its relaxing function, exercise can also improve sleep.

Choose sports and physical activities with a low risk of head injury. Walking, jogging, and table tennis are good examples. Please, no boxing or wrestling.

Brain Workout
Apart from physical exercise, it’s necessary to stimulate your brain. Play card games, such as Wordigy, or board games that require some analysis and thinking. Scrabble should be on top of the list. Play often with your friends and family and benefit not just from these games, but also from healthy, casual conversations.
Solve crossword puzzles and math quizzes. Read newspapers and magazines as often as you can. Also, devour both nonfiction and fiction books and watch thought-provoking programs and documentary shows on TV. These simple activities should keep your brain stimulated.

Recreational activities
Recreational activities, such as hobbies and sports, offer advantages. They keep you occupied and stimulated, thus give your brain a chance to explore, discover, and simply enjoy the moment. As well, they help you focus on healthy thoughts and useful endeavors.

Instead of you focusing on painful experiences, certain movements and artistic pursuits provide a convenient escape from unnecessary rumination. Thus, they make productive use of your time and give a sense of accomplishment. If done often, both outdoor and indoor recreational activities should make you feel good about yourself.

Healthy Diet, Adequate sleep, and Soothing Music
Nutritious food consisting of fruits, fish, and vegetables is a must. Junk, processed, and high-caloric foods should be avoided at all cost. Unhealthy fats, such as trans and saturated ones, must be removed from daily diet. Depending on your age, you should include multivitamins or even supplements.  

Adequate sleep, five to seven hours on average every night, is just as important to maintain. The brain works well when well rested. Based on studies, music is effective in stimulating the brain, keeping it more responsive and alert. In some nursing homes, studies have shown that music reduces or even treats the psychological and behavioral symptoms of dementia. Agitation, aggression, and vocalization are some behavioral problems that may improve with music.

Avoidance of cigarettes and mood-altering Substances
Avoidance of cigarettes and mood-altering substances (e.g. alcohol and street drugs) should help attain a healthy brain. For instance, smoking and excessive alcohol drinking are risk factors in developing medical problems that may undermine memory. Ischemic heart disease and hypertension are examples. Therefore, it’s vital to avoid them or if you’re already a user, to stop them.  

Spiritual and Physical Check-up
Spirituality also provides comfort and hope. Just as your body and brain need nutritious food, your soul needs constant spiritual nourishment. Focus on uplifting ideas, inspiring literature, and motivating activities, and discover a sense of purpose.

Moreover, a healthy brain needs vigorous prevention of medical problems that may compromise the brain. Ischemic heart disease, hyperlipidemia, stroke, head trauma, hypertension, and diabetes are examples.  If they already exist, they should be treated early and adequately. Treatment adherence and regular visits with specialists or family physicians are therefore strongly encouraged.

In summary, your daily routine determines your physical and brain health. Simple, inexpensive changes in your lifestyle should help prevent dementia, improve brain functioning, and make you feel happier.

Source: First Aid tips for Memory Loss: How to Keep a Healthy Brain and Slow Down Forgetfulness in 4 Practical Steps by Michael G. Rayel, MD.

Dr. Rayel specializes in general and geriatric psychiatry and is the Site Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital of Eastern Health in Newfoundland. As an author, his recent books include the Shrink's First Aid Tips Series for the public and Psychiatry Certification Exam Review Series for psychiatrists. For details about Dr. Rayel and his books, visit

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